Senate advances compromise on farm-to-table poultry bill

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Lawmakers in the Indiana Senate have advanced a compromise that seems to appease both small poultry producers who are part of Indiana’s “farm-to-fork” movement and those who say they are worried about protecting public health.

A Senate committee on Thursday amended a bill that sought to mandate those small producers receive the same levels of inspection as large producers before selling their products at restaurants—a mandate critics said would be too costly and result in stifling market access for family farms. The bill with those stricter requirements has passed the full Indiana House already, but the Senate changed its version.

The Senate version of the bill instead creates a framework for “scale-appropriate" regulation of the farms. It allows farms to get limited permits to sell restaurants, hotels, retail stores and other institutions their meat if the farm meets certain requirements, including following a farm food safety plan that includes an analysis of food safety hazards and ways to control them, having someone responsible at the farm that has food safety certification, and meeting labeling rules.

The bill also allows the state Board of Animal Health to conduct microbial testing at farms.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long said he asked outgoing Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann to get involved in the dispute and find a compromise.

“She rolled up her sleeves with her staff and we worked out a process that allows them to do their job and recognizes they’re a smaller business,” Long said. “Everyone seems satisfied.”

The Indiana Farm Bureau, which originally supported the stricter bill, applauded the “workable solution that addresses food safety concerns of Hoosiers.”

“Indiana Farm Bureau members are in full support of quality assurance measures that provide a safe and wholesome food supply at a reasonable cost to the farmer,” said president Randy Kron in a written statement. “Protecting the health of the general public must be the primary consideration of any legislation or regulation adopted. The amended version of HB 1267 meets those requirements, and it will give the growing number of small farmers in our state an opportunity to get their products into new markets.”

Hawkins Family Farm posted on its Facebook page Friday morning that it was in support of the changes, saying it hoped the “saga of this legislation may end up as a success story."

"House Bill 1267 has been amended to create a framework for building meaningful relationships between state regulatory agencies and Indiana’s small-scale poultry farmers through facility inspection, food safety certification, and microbial testing—an approach that addresses the microbial hazards of public health importance we face today while taking into account the scale of a farm, rather than imposing outmoded inspection techniques designed for large processing operations,” the farm said in a statement.

The bill caught the attention of national farm-to-table advocacy groups and consumers who rallied in support of Hawkins Family Farm and other groups on social media, using the hashtag #KeepChickenOnTheMenu.

The updated bill passed the Senate Commerce & Technology committee 8-1 on Thursday. It now heads to the full Senate.

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